Struggling Knicks' biggest loss might be Carmelo Anthony in offseason

Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks sits on the Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks sits on the bench during a game against the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden. (Nov. 20, 2013) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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PORTLAND, Ore. - The Lakers locked up their best player and free-agent recruiter, Kobe Bryant, for two more years yesterday at roughly $24 million per season. Carmelo Anthony said he deserved more.

"They got off easy," Anthony said. "He's Kobe, man . . . I'd at least give him 40 [million] a year and let him bow out gracefully."

The collective-bargaining agreement doesn't allow that, but it tells you how Anthony feels about Bryant: They're friends. Bryant has called Anthony and tried to help him through some tough times in his career. He could be one of the first to call Anthony when he becomes a free agent July 1.

Anthony didn't talk about his future before the Knicks tried to snap a five-game losing streak late Monday night against the Trail Blazers. He has said he wants to stay with the Knicks, but he believed they would contend for a championship this season. Right now, that's as realistic as the Jets or Giants making the Super Bowl.

If the Knicks don't go deep in the playoffs or make major changes to upgrade the roster, there's no guarantee that Anthony will re-sign just because they can offer him five years and roughly $129 million, about $34 million more than any other team.

Anthony says he continues to remain positive because he has to for his team, but he also had some revealing comments about the Knicks' 3-9 start.

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"I think it's time for us to kind of get that monkey off our back," he said. "It's starting to turn into a gorilla. I can't handle that. It's starting to get tough.

"When you're losing, it's not fun. Are we having fun on the basketball court? No. The game is not fun right now. When you start pressing, pressing, pressing, it makes everything that much worse. So no, we're not having fun playing basketball right now. We got to get back to that."

It's widely believed that the Lakers have targeted Anthony or LeBron James in free agency. Like Anthony, James can opt out of his contract after this season. But unlike Anthony, James hasn't announced his plans. Last month, Anthony all but confirmed that he expects the Lakers to pursue him.

The Lakers will be far under the cap to sign a marquee free agent, but at this point, they might not have enough to pay him max money. They have work to do with their roster and need to make decisions about Pau Gasol, who will be a free agent in July, and Steve Nash.

The injured point guard is due $9.7 million next season. The Lakers could use the stretch provision on Nash -- meaning his $9.7-million salary could be stretched over three years and count as $3.23 million on the books -- and thus have more money for free agency.

Bryant, 35, is trying to return from an Achilles tear suffered late last season. There are rumblings that he could rejoin the team on the Lakers' current trip, which includes a visit to Barclays Center Wednesday night. Anthony expects Bryant to return to his All-Star level.

"I know Kobe personally," Anthony said. "I know how hard he works. I know his mind-set. He definitely wants to come back, I don't want to say better than what he was before, but more refreshed, body healed, and he's a smart guy. If he wasn't, he would have been playing by now. So he understands the risks of coming back early."

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Knicks, Madison Square

Garden and Cablevision.

Cablevision owns Newsday.

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